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Huffington Post: Houston’s Refugees Are Facing Harvey — and Giving Back to the City That Took Them In

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At the Huffington Post this week from Jessica Schulberg and Elise Foley is a article on how some of Houston’s newest residents — refugees from Syria and other countries — are coping with Hurricane Harvey and how they’ve been trying to help out and give back to the city that took them in.

Since the hurricane made landfall, longtime Houston residents, immigrants, and newcomers alike have been banding together to help others and to pull through the crisis. Immigrants outside the state have started fundraisers, while those who are in Houston are making sure their neighbors are safe and assisting others where they can. As newcomer to Houston Mohammad Pechwal says in the article, “As human[s], we have to help each other.”

Read the beginning of the article below or in full here:

At first, Dayana Halawo’s children, 5 and 7 years old, thought Hurricane Harvey’s thunderclaps were a more familiar sound: bombs.

Halawo, 28, and her family came to Houston from Syria as refugees last August, and until recently, she had planned to throw a party to celebrate their one-year anniversary in the country. But in the days leading up to the hurricane, she instead made five trips to the grocery store, returning each time she remembered another item she and her family might need to wait out the storm. She stopped by her neighbors’ homes to make sure they had enough food and water. By Sunday, the roads surrounding her home were flooded, forcing her to stay inside.

Texas takes in the second-highest number of refugees of any state, and many of them end up in Houston. In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to block Syrian refugees from entering the state, and when he didn’t get his way, he pulled out of the resettlement program altogether. (The federal government still resettles people in Texas without the state government’s help.) One of President Donald Trump’s first acts in office was to sign an executive order temporarily shutting down refugee admissions, and although parts of that order were blocked in the courts, resettlement of new arrivals has dropped significantly.

But in spite of a politically hostile environment, refugees in Houston say they feel connected to their new home and are looking for ways to support their community as the tropical storm tears through the city.

“I am so sad, because I love Houston and I love all the people here, the people here are so nice, I just hope everything is OK,” Halawo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Don’t forget to pray for us — and maybe when this is done, you can come visit me and we can make Arabic food.”

Halawo, a former English teacher in Syria, now works as a tutor at the Houston-based nonprofit Amaanah Refugee Services. Her husband, who worked as an accountant in Syria, is now a handyman. Once it stops raining, he plans to offer free repair services to flood victims, she said.

The desire to give back to the country that took them in is common among refugees in Houston.

“These people welcome us here in the United States and these people accept us here in the United States, and we feel proud that we helped someone,” Nisar Ahmad Momand, a former refugee who now lives in Houston, said. “As a human, we help them.”  

On Saturday, Momand and other volunteers from the Afghan Cultural Center, a community group where he serves on the board of directors, helped firefighters whose truck was stuck in the street use their hose so they could put out a house fire. The group had about 20 volunteers who distributed supplies, helped people get their belongings to higher areas and moved families to safe places.

During the storm, though, the group’s focus is on helping anyone in the community who needs it. Houston was welcoming to him and his family when they came to the U.S. from Afghanistan, Momand said, and they want to help whoever they can.

One of the volunteers at the Afghan Cultural Center was Mohammad Pechwal, who has been living in Houston for almost a year with his wife and three children. Like Momand, Pechwal came to the U.S. on a special immigrant visa, which are reserved for people who worked with the U.S. military or government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pechwal hasn’t gotten to know his neighbors much yet because he’s busy ― he leaves every morning around 6:30 a.m. to go to his job at the manager of a car wash. He had not volunteered at the Afghan Cultural Center until the storm.

But on Friday, once he had his family settled safely in an apartment on the second floor of their building, he went to the Afghan Cultural Center to see what he could do. Along with helping people at the center, Pechwal and his cousin went out on Tuesday morning to help people jump dead car batteries. Pechwal has spent other time calling around to his employees from the car wash, some of whom are refugees as well, to see how they are faring with the storm.

“As human[s], we have to help each other,” Pechwal said.